Written by: John Esposito
Directed by: Rob Schmidt
Starring: Julia Benson, Martin Donovan and Anna Galvin
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Rob Schmidt is one of those curveball names for the Masters of Horror series thatíll probably have you scurrying for his filmography, where youíll find that heís the guy who directed Wrong TurnÖand The Alphabet Killer. Okay, maybe thatís not quite enough to bestow ďmasterĒ status on him, but Wrong Turn has sneakily become one of the more enduring slashers from the past decade, and not just because itís been pillaged for four sequels. For Right to Die, Schmidt and writer John Esposito (Graveyard Shift) pillaged then-recent headlines by taking an obvious inspiration from the Terry Schiavo case, which ends up being great fodder for an inventive little ghost story.
Cliff (Martin Donovan) and his wife, Abby (Julia Benson), are on a night drive that turns tragic when Cliff wraps their car around a tree. After being flung from the vehicle, Abby is engulfed in flames when the car explodes, leaving her comatose while her husband walks away relatively unscathed. Reduced to a skinless husk that floats in and out of consciousness, Abby is put on life support while Cliff has to decide whether or not to pull the plug. He consults with his lawyer (Corbin Bernsen), who persuades him to let his wife die, especially since Cliff stands to gain a substantial settlement from the car manufacturer
As it turns out, though, Cliffís been a little bit of a dickhead, and his marriage has been strained thanks to an affair with his assistant (Robin Sydney, in full hussy mode); Abby always had a way of being frosty, and, now, even in extra crispy state, sheís turned an icy gaze on Cliff in her pseudo-afterlife. Whenever her body gives way and she flatlines, her spirit takes to the astral plane to haunt her husband in what becomes a supernaturally-tinged slasher that contorts itself and its characters into horrifying situations. Suffice to say, Cliff starts to think twice about his decision to pull the plug on his wife since itíll give her free reign to haunt her. In the meantime, she does her best job to make things a living hell for her husband and his sleazebag associates with some great, gruesome scenes and even one startling sequence where Cliff believes heís having a sex dream involving Abby (and her ample, ample body), only to see it turn into a deep-fried nightmare.
Despite the obviously serious euthanasia talking point, Right to Die isnít a heavy-handed, moralizing affair; in fact, the film doesnít even come down on one side or the other to make a statement, instead simply using it as a springboard for its twisted, pulpy story. Ghost stories are sometimes a dime a dozen, but this oneís a distinctively gory and funny one that plays more like a ghost story waiting to happen. While Schmidt and Esposito donít make light of the situation in general, they find a way to somehow make this particular instance of it play a bit like a comedy of errors, with Cliff always running and stumbling from his inevitable doom. Cliff is a squirrelly guy thatís difficult to pin down--one second, he seems to be genuinely remorseful, while the next sees him banging his assistant while a picture of his wife looks on. Just about everyone surrounding Cliff is similarly a horrible human being; his little side-dish is transparently gold-digging for the settlement money, while Bernsen is delightfully slimy as the attorney, especially when he gives Abby a despicable goodbye message before the plug is pulled.
Even Abby herself becomes a bit of a hero slasher; while Cliff would have you believe that sheís an overly-vindictive bitch thatís even spiteful in near-death, itís difficult not to consider her a victim. When sheís first revealed as a burn victim hidden behind bandages, the staggering image taps into the truly physical horror of clinging to life in an inhuman body and drums up a lot of sympathy for Abby. Genre legends Nicotero and Berger have done outstanding work during this series, but the effects that render Abby into a completely flayed, messy collection of viscera is arguably their magnum opus. The effect is slightly reminiscent of the ones that brought Frank to life in Hellraiser, but itís not quite as goopy; still, itís a fantastic look for a slasher villainess, and watching her wreak havoc on the slime-balls that confined her to this fate is a wildly entertaining, gory romp whose twists and turns give a new definition to a husband landing in the doghouse.
Right to Die is ultimately one of those great anthology horror tales that morbidly revels in doling out punishment to horrible people doing even more horrible things. Its moralizing is general rather than political--ďdonít be an adulterous, conniving asshole,Ē seems to be the theme, as it so often is. While Schmidt is obviously riffing on a timely event, it never feels particularly preachy and moves beyond its immediate context. One of the better offerings between either season of the show, this is one to bump up to the top of the queue; if you decide to add it to the shelf, youíll be treated to another fine disc from Anchor Bay, which packs a commentary track with Schmidt amongst the other behind-the-scenes extras. Schmidt might not be the most obvious master of horror, but Right to Die is proof that he could be with the right material. Buy it!
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